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4.7 out of 5 stars43
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 17 September 2007
What's it like to be in battle? Many of those of us who haven't actually been in battle must have wondered now and then. After all, war and battle seem to be a permanent part of the human condition, and evidence of past battles surround us on all sides.

We may never truly know (except if you're willing to join one, I beg to be excused) but reading this book will bring you as close as possible to understanding what moves men to go out and kill others.

John Keegan tries to shed light on the matter using 3 well-known battles (Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme) and does so in an eminent matter. What he has to says is compelling, convincing, and very readable as are all his books. A great read.
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on 4 September 1999
It has been several years since I read this book, and while the details are fading, the overall impression remains vivid. A theme running through the book is why a soldier would commit the seemingly irrational act of remaining on a battlefield, where a person could get killed. Keegan finds that the reasons have changed through time, and posits that one of the challenges leaders in modern warfare face will be getting their troops to fight rather than hunker down for the duration.
_The Face of Battle_ is, or at least was fairly recently, required reading for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Course.
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on 22 December 2004
This is a great work. I've always been facinated by the Human elements of war making. What posseses people to endure battle? What were the experiences of the various types of combatants through the ages? This book looks at all of this and much more.
Be warned, this is not light reading and nor shoul it be. Keegan employs complex structure in his language. This adds value for me. I've read this over and over and derived new thoughts each time. If you are interested in military history this is essential.
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on 12 July 2011
Brilliantly written and easily readable. Well-informed and thought-provoking. It often states the obvious that many people interested in military history would not even think about - for example, how did soldiers relieve themselves during battle, especially when wearing armour; how much of the actual battle did a soldier see; how many soldiers actual fought in a battle; how did they react to conflict? Highly recommended for anyone interested in battles, military history and even human nature.

Dr Mike Dobson
University of Exeter
Research area - Roman military archaeology
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on 10 January 2011
This is a fine exposition from a viewpoint I was not familiar with. The fact that the book is a 'classic' is I well known to specialists in the field, which of course, I am not. However for me it offered thoughts to consider that I have often wondered about, 'how would I react' to those sort of battle situations.
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on 17 November 2007
Surely The Face of Battle was meant to be a very specialistic study of military history, dealing with a very specific issue, that is, what is combat seen from those who fight, be they medieval knights or modern soldiers. But the success of this book goes far beyond the narrow boundaries of military history, making this essay a classic of history in general--a classic of culture, one should add. This is a book that has fueled the writings of other military historians, of literary critics, of intellectuals of any kind; you find it quoted just everywhere. Because the main issue of the book is war as it was lived by human beings, not statistical abstractions; and Keegan has managed to render vividly and powerfully that experience. His elegant and classical prose helped him, no doubt; plus his brilliant scholarship; but there is also a powerful intelligence at work here, which enables him to provide us with dazzling insights in every page. So this is not just a book for academics or war buffs; it's a great monument of culture and thought that should be part of anyone who wants to understand the world we live in.
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on 27 August 2006
This is the way to document and present military history! Many a contemporary author and historian have learned from Keegan.

Studying the evolution of battle by closely examining the battles of Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815) and Somme (1916) - all set in North-Western Europe - is a brilliant idea. Further more it is done expertly with specific emphasis on the ordinary soldier as part of the cycle of warfare; "technology, doctrine/tactics and organization" constantly revolving around "training".

Four stars is a modest and thoroughly subjective rating on my part. I could have done without the first 70 or so pages where Keegan justifies his approach and method. The three "battle chapters" provide more than adequate justification! More than 30 years have passed and that makes Keegans closing speculations on the future of warfare kind of odd and not that interesting ...
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on 1 July 1999
Keegan delivers a military history book from a different perspective - the soldiers eye and with little detail on the 'greater' tactical picture of battle. The concept is original and engaging. Takes away any glory of victory and details the truth behind the clatter of Agincourt, the thunder of Waterloo and the iron rain of Somme. The well written frankness of the book seldom disappoints.
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on 1 January 2015
A great classic which introduces a completely original possibly revolutionary approach to military history writing .While the orthodox military historians focused on the macrocosm picture of strategy, command and operations our author fascinated by the soldier's experience of war, tackles his subject from below by focusing on the microcosm picture , that of the ordinary men on the ground in the thick of the battle with no physical details spared.Not only he observes but he tries to explain with great psychological acumen the patterns of human conduct with their remarkable diversity, the entire gamut of actions/ reactions of the crowds in the heat of battle and the individual acts of valour and bravery or simply self preservation. By sieving through the diaries and oral recollections that evoke the individual experience of what is it like to be under fire he attempts to probe the nature of leadership, self sacrifice, comradeship under fire, fear and flight, steadfastness and resolution.

This a truly fine achievement giving a gritty and far more gripping realistic account of the simple foot soldier's experience of battle from the medieval archery exchanges to the horrendous trench war of the early twentieth century.
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John Keegan could give Barbara Tuchman a run for her money. In this excellently written speculation on three major battles (A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme.)

The first part of the book was a mixed message. I can understand that as a writer John Keegan had to explain that he has not been in a battle to quell detractors. However he may have overdone it a bit. Mixed with his apology is an excellent overview of what a battle is. I made it to the Tet Offensive 1968. He could have been next to me from his descriptions of battle. I did see some differences in attitude between West Point and Sandhurst. I would have been satisfied if the first chapter was the book.

Then he goes on to dissect three grate battles. I only knew of the battles through Shakespeare and other tellers of tales; so it was nice to get the skinny on what it was really most likely to be. You do not have to be in a battle to feel you were there but it helps.

This is one of those books that need to be re-read as there are too many details and you will have to pause and think about what you just read.

This book was very well worth the time to read it.
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